“Nnnh~ aaaaahn~”

“Deeper, Lily, keep -ngh- keep going!”

“Nnnnnh~ hahh, hahh, nnnnnnnnnh~”

“Ngh! I can’t hold on much longer! Lily!”

The pants and heavy breathing of the two girls echoed throughout the wasteland, a fitting accompaniment to the two figures, body pressed close together, cold metal against warm skin, working in tandem to achieve just one goal. Their bodies moved and twisted as Lily reached her hands deeper into the crevice before her.

“Got it!”

With a triumphant yank, Lily pulled a simple silver ring from within the chest of the giant fallen machine, where she and Iris were perched. Iris, holding her in place to prevent her from falling or losing balance, blinked a few times, switching off her vision mode that let her see through the exoskeleton of the machine.

The two girls jumped off the prone machine and landed softly, with Lily holding up the ring for closer examination.

<<Link Conduit>>.

That was what Iris had called it. It was made of a silvery material, with a single carved line that ringed the band. On the inner side, the word “TRIAL” was inscribed in block lettering, apart from which there was no other decoration.

According to what Iris had told her, the <<Link Conduit>> was a magical item with a self-contained magical core that warped space and reality. By activating it, she would be able to return to her own world, with Iris in tow. This ring was probably meant to be a reward for whoever could take down that machine.

“Alright Lily, first you have to register yourself as the primary user. Put it on and kiss it.”

Lily raised a skeptical eyebrow, but complied. The ring glowed a light blue, then returned to normal.

“Done! Now the ring is registered to your mana signature. Nobody else can use it now. Next, hold up the ring and say “Waypoint”.”

Again, Lily complied, trying very hard to not feel foolish. As she did, the ring flashed a deep purple.

“Done! Now the ring’s registered your current dimension-specific geotechnical spatial registry!”

“My what?”

“Your location. Now when you return to the other world, you can use the ring whenever you want, and you’ll return right here.”

Lily nodded, bemused. The ring was certainly an amazing piece of technology – far beyond her understanding, anyway – but whoever made it obviously had a flair for the dramatic.

Nonetheless, the fact that she would be able to return to this wasteland was one worth celebration. She definitely wanted to return home and leave this barren wasteland, but she was an academic at heart, and this world had so many things to explore and learn about. Particularly its extremely advanced technology.

Lily glanced over at Iris, head tilted in consideration. Iris blinked at her questioningly.

While Lily had gotten used to Iris being made of metal, the other humans in her world were not. Neither of them had any idea where the ring would deposit them, and if they managed to find themselves in a densely populated area, it would be extremely difficult to explain Iris’s appearance. Attracting attention was not the first thing Lily wanted to do upon returning.

“Hey Iris. Don’t take this the wrong way; I like you the way you are, and I honestly think your metallic appearance looks really cute. But when we return to my world, other people might be a bit more conservative, so…”

“Ah! Okay, no problem!”

Iris closed her eyes and started glowing. As Lily watched, starting from her feet, Iris’ skin changed. It became slightly pinker, with more variation in shades. Her lips gained slightly more colour. Her white hair took on a softer texture. She opened her lids, revealing a perfectly humanlike pair of striking green eyes.

She looked for all the world like a frail, weak little girl.

Lily walked up to her and touched her bare skin. Warm and soft, supple and smooth. Iris’ cheeks coloured slightly pinkish.

“How do I look?”

“…Very cute. But what about your weapons?”

“Ah, about those…”

Iris turned around and exposed her bare back, from which 8 slits opened and the <<Varia>> emerged.

“It’s just a retexture, so I still have all my base functionality.”

“…Technology really is amazing.”

Iris scratched her head, eyes averted.

“Ehe. I couldn’t synthesise clothes, though.”

Lily laughed at this. She herself had long since discarded her tattered clothing, with it having fallen apart long ago. She stood next to Iris stark naked, dirt and dried bloodstains smeared across her bruised body. In comparison, Iris looked pristine and unblemished.

“…it’s not fair that I’m the only one who’s dirty.”

Iris giggled and shimmered. Her skin was now equally as dirt-covered as Lily’s.

“It’s not my fault I have a self-maintenance mana subsystem. But there. Now we match.”

Lily reached forward and took Iris’ hand.

“Come on, Iris. Let’s go.”

As Iris had instructed her, Lily raised her ringbearing hand and intoned, “Slide.”

A bright white light burst from the <<Link Conduit>> and enveloped the two girls, filling their vision and invading their senses.

Then, as abruptly as it emerged, the light dissipated, leaving the two girls dazed and disoriented in the middle of a clearing surrounded by vegetation – right next to a lake.